Detroit — Could this time be different?
There have been times during Andreas Athanasiou’s brief career where he’s flashed that breathtaking speed, the innate ability to score goals, and basically create an offensive chance nearly shift.
There would be a game, or two, three. Then, quiet. And you were left waiting for Athanasiou to make another impact.
In Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime victory over Ottawa, Athanasiou scored both goals, his speed absolutely befuddled the Senators — “I don’t know how many breakaways he had (four), probably the amount I had in all my career,” said Henrik Zetterberg — and for the third consecutive game, while on a line with Dylan Larkin, Athanasiou was particularly effective.
The Red Wings are hoping this Athanasiou hot stretch stays around for much longer.
“Like any young player, they have to learn how consistent you have to be to be successful,” said coach Jeff Blashill, who has stressed with Athanasiou the need to work consistently on every shift. “That is one of the biggest lessons young guys have to learn. I don’t care who you are. (Dylan) Larkin’s had to learn it, (Athanasiou) has had to learn it.
“I hope he (Athanasiou) comes Friday and plays the same way. It’s a continued step. The more games you build up where you’re playing that same way and playing great hockey, playing engaged, the more you’re taking steps to being a great hockey player in this league.”
In the three games since Blashill moved Athanasiou into Anthony Mantha’s spot on Larkin’s line — Mantha had a groin injury — Athanasiou has three goals, with 15 shots on net.
Larkin and Athanasiou read off each other brilliantly, with Larkin simply throwing the puck to an open spot on the ice and Athanasiou using his speed.
“I just throw it now,” Larkin said of his plan with Athanasiou. “Late in the third (period), I just iced it and I was waiting for him, looking around. He just comes out of nowhere usually and he wasn’t there.”
Blashill sees a different Athanasiou when playing on Larkin’s line.
“They both know how to utilize their speed, that’s the biggest thing,” Blashill said. “Double-A trusts that Larks is going to get him the puck, so he skates without the puck into those open areas. For whatever reason, he seems to really trust Larkin is going to lay pucks into those areas and it was time after time tonight.”
With Larkin playing center and Athanasiou on the wing, Athanasiou is freed from the defensive responsibilities that centers have and can use his speed to explode through the zone and pressure defenses.
“As a winger you can kind of push the defense back and blow the zone,” Athanasiou said. “I don’t want to say blow the zone, but kind of force them back and get those high flips and get put in puck races.”
Knowing the ice time is likely to be there, playing with confidence, Athanasiou is looking like a different player these days.
More animated. Talking on the bench. Much more than before.
“He’s engaged; on the bench he’s into it,” Larkin said. “He’s talking to myself and we’re strategizing on the bench, and that’s how you build chemistry.
“We talk about what we can do throughout the game to find each other. A lot of it right now is finding him in open ice, and letting him skate and coming up, and following for rebounds and second opportunities.”
Panthers at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Panthers (17-17-5, 39 points) had Thursday’s game in Boston canceled due to the winter storm…C Vincent Trocheck, a Little Caesars hockey alum, leads offensively with 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists).